Smithsonian Grand Challenge Consortia

The Smithsonian Consortia help foster a spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration to stimulate intellectual exchange within the Smithsonian and beyond. They incubate, develop and launch collaborations that along with our museums, research centers and programs, address our Strategic Plan's four Grand Challenges: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe, Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet, Valuing World Cultures, and Understanding the American Experience.

For more information on all four challenges, see the Smithsonian Institution's Grand Challenges Consortia web page. While SAO staff may be involved in any of the four consortia, "Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe" is of particular interest.


Consortium for Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe

The Smithsonian has played a fundamental role in understanding the nature of the Universe, dark matter, galaxy formation, planetary systems and extreme explosive phenomena. With support from a broad range of government and private organizations, the Consortium will undertake integrative research using next generation technologies focused on questions that will include: the nature of dark matter and dark energy; the formation and evolution of planets, stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies; and space, matter, and time in the extreme environments of exploding stars, neutron stars and near black holes. Results of our research and explorations will be disseminated to scholars as well as the public and connected to our artistic and cultural endeavors.


Pierre Comizzoli, Director, Consortia for Science

Pierre Comizzoli, a research biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and leader of the Pan-Smithsonian Cryo-Initiative, is the Smithsonian’s consortia director for science. The consortia director and the consortia committee consider proposals for innovative research, exhibitions and programs from around the Smithsonian to determine which ones will receive funding.

Comizzoli holds a doctorate in veterinary medicine from the Veterinary School of Alfort and a doctorate from the University of Tours in France. After working for five years as a research scientist at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, he joined SCBI’s Center for Species Survival in 2002 to develop new projects on gamete and tissue cryopreservation for rare and endangered species. He is also in charge of conservation projects on wild carnivores and ungulates in Northern Africa—he is the chair of the Conservation and Scientific Committee of the Sahara Conservation Fund—and in Southeast Asia, where he is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission Saola Working Group.

Comizzoli has received several professional awards, including the Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Prize (2008 and 2012) and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (2011).


Smithsonian Grand Challenges Awards

Smithsonian Grand Challenges Awards -- a competitive, internal granting program -- advance cross-disciplinary, integrated scholarly efforts across the Institution which relate to the Smithsonian Grand Challenge Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe. These awards encourage Smithsonian staff to advance research, as well as broaden access, revitalize education, strengthen collections and encourage new ways of thinking that involve emerging technology.

Grand Challenges grants are awarded through the Smithsonian Consortia at two distinct levels:

Level One grants provide seed money to develop groups around promising concepts. Successful proposals at Level One provide the time and incentive for individuals with common interests to meet and crystallize ideas for major interdisciplinary/pan-Institutional projects. These projects are intended to be short in duration (6-12 months) and focused in purpose, such as support for arranging seminars, workshops, meetings, and brown-bag lunches.

Level Two grants are larger and aimed at maturing groups poised to confront relevant issues and prepared to secure external funding. Applicants apply for Level Two funding to conduct preliminary experiments, write a position paper, explore the design of an exhibition, conduct preparatory work for a major project or produce other evidence of scholarly capacity that is deemed essential for external competition. Successful proposals at Level Two provide a group that has defined a common goal with the resources they need to establish themselves as credible competitors for external funding. Applicants for Level Two funding may already have a collaborative history or may be building on the outcome of a successful Level One process.

The Smithsonian Consortia are funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant supports the four grand challenges of the Smithsonian Institution's Strategic Plan, enables the Institution to organize itself in a way that will achieve significant results in each area, and provides competitive grants to Smithsonian staff who submit creative interdisciplinary ideas.

CfA staff interested in learning more about the award process, should see the internal page 2014 Smithsonian Grand Challenges Awards.